AT&T, Discovery CEOs Praise Jeff Zucker Despite ‘Unfortunate’ Ouster From CNN (Videos)

Discovery CEO David Zaslav called Zucker “a good friend”

AT&T CEO John Stankey and DIscovery CEO David Zaslav appeared in back-to-back interviews on CNBC on Friday, where each faced questions about the abrupt ouster of CNN President Jeff Zucker this week.

Stankey, whose company is spinning off CNN parent Warner Media in a merger with Discovery expected to close in the second quarter, sidestepped any role he might have played in Zucker’s exit, which he called “unfortunate.”

“Jeff resigned, and the decision to resign was Jeff’s decision. It was an unfortunate set of circumstances,” Stankey told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “I know that Jeff had a tremendous following within CNN, and there is a lot of people who are incredibly loyal and supportive of him, and that makes it hard for those individuals. However, when I step back and think about what Jeff has been able to accomplish over nine years, you can’t take that away from him. He has been a very strong leader at CNN, but there is a lot of people at CNN who make that success possible.”

Zaslav, whose close ties with Zucker are well known and led many to expect Zucker might take a top role in the restructured Warner Bros. Discovery, said that he was also on the sidelines for the personnel shift. “Jeff is a good friend of mine. I can’t speak to this issue. We don’t own the company yet. We’re not involved in any of that,” he said.

Stankey’s comments appear to downplay the role that he and WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar might have played to force Zucker’s decision, which was prompted by the CNN executive’s failure to disclose his consensual romantic relationship with a subordinate, CNN’s chief marketing officer Allison Gollust. (Both execs are divorced from their previous spouses.)

According to CNN’s own reporting, Zucker had offered to stay on the job for a short period — through the merger, or the spring launch of CNN+ or even the end of the week — but was rebuffed by Stankey and Kilar. “According to two people involved in the matter, Zucker was facing termination if he did not resign,” CNN reported.

In his CNBC interview, Stankey also sidestepped a question about why Gollust is remaining at the network despite her romantic relationship with Zucker. “Allison, her circumstances are different,” he said, “and I don’t want to get involved in discussing her situation.”

The news of Zucker’s resignation sent shock waves through the media industry this week. Savvy observers questioned whether it was a revenge plot by former 9 p.m. ET anchor Chris Cuomo, who lost Zucker’s confidence in the fall, was fired and will not be receiving severance.